BY DANIEL SCOTT MITCHELL, STAFF WRITER
From the stone age to the silicon age, the materials that humans utilize have shaped technologies, society and the world as a whole. Materials have had such remarkable impacts throughout history that we even name our time periods after them. Thanks to numerous scientific discoveries in recent years, I think that our future will be marked by the name of a novel ultra-thin material: graphene.
Graphene’s origin is surprisingly simple: it is a single-atom-thin layer of graphite (yes, the flaky material used as lead in pencils). Despite the fact that it is microscopically thin, graphene can also pack a punch: graphene has been dubbed a “supermaterial,” and not without good reason. Graphene is seven times lighter than air, 200 times stronger than steel, better at conducting electricity than copper and one of the most thermally conductive materials known to man.
As a researcher who specializes in developing practical uses for graphene, I have been fortunate enough to see firsthand how this technology could have an impact on day-to-day life. Though there are challenges with producing mass quantities of graphene, there is still mounting scientific and commercial evidence signaling that in some practical uses, graphene is ready to change the world. Here are a few of the ways that I think graphene could soon impact our daily lives.
No more dead cell phones: Graphene batteries are expected to hold more energy and recharge much faster than current Li-ion batteries, with some estimates going as low as five minutes for a full phone charge. In the age of the smartphone and the electric vehicle, the unmatched convenience that graphene offers in terms of fast charging and high battery capacity could catapult graphene batteries into the spotlight. Also while many graphene batteries are still under research and development, electronics company Elecjet is already bringing their graphene batteries to market, exhibiting the early signs of the technology’s viability.
Clean drinking water, any time, any place: When used in membranes for water filtration, graphene has been shown to remove not just dirt, but also salt, bacteria and even nuclear radiation from contaminated water. Graphene water filters, when commercialized, could turn the water crisis into something of the past. This technology is well proven in laboratories, and will soon reach the market, as filtration company LifeSaver recently announced plans to collaborate with the University of Manchester to develop and sell portable graphene water filters.
Faster and smarter devices: Graphene antennas can enable wireless download speeds to increase by as much as 50,000 times, to around one terabit per second. Furthermore, graphene-based bio-sensors can track movement, measure heart activity and even monitor blood sugar levels from sweat, features which could have an enormous impact on wearable technology, allowing our devices to become much smarter.
Stronger and lighter machines and products: I think that graphene’s mechanical properties, namely its high strength and low density, are what will eventually propel it to widespread use in most industrial and consumer products. In fact, graphene is well on its way to becoming ubiquitous. Graphene foam is already being used by automaker Ford in it’s F-150 and Mustang models to create stronger and lighter parts to dampen noise from the engine, while airplane skins and drones use graphene because of its low density. Also, there are a number of sports companies who are using graphene to achieve optimal strength and weight distribution in running shoes, tennis rackets, golf clubs and more. Graphene will only expand in this role as manufacturing methods improve and the demand for graphene-based products grows.
Overall, I think that graphene is a powerful material with qualities that will drive it toward successful implementation in a myriad of different industries. Just as stone symbolized pre-history, bronze represented early civilization, iron marked industrialization and silicon marked digitization, so graphene will represent the future. Move over, silicon, it’s time for the Graphene Age.